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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XXXII

John Tanner’s family had been increased by the addition of a poor old Ojibway woman and two children who were destitute of any men and had been taken in by Old Woman. Even with the additions John felt it was still best for them to live by themselves, he hunted with considerable success and determined that he should go to the trading house at Red River to purchase necessary articles, he made a pack of beaver and left in a small buffalo skin canoe just large enough to carry him and pack and descended the Little Saskawjewun. There was a spot on the river which looked like one the Indians would always choose to encamp, at a bend of the river was a beautiful landing spot, behind it a little plain, woods and a small hill rising in the rear. But the spot was connected to a story of fratricide, a crime so uncommon that the spot where it happened is held in detestation and regarded in terror. No Indian would land his canoe at this spot as the story is told that years before a quarrel arose between two brothers, one drew his knife and slew the other, those who looked upon the scene were so horrified that without hesitation or delay they killed the murderer and buried them together. John had heard that if any man encamped near their graves they would be seen coming out of the ground and either re-enact the quarrel and murder or in some other manner so annoy and disturb the visitors that they could not sleep. Curiosity was part of John’s motive and he wished to be able to tell the Indians that not only had he stopped but slept quietly in a spot much shunned with so much fear and caution. The sun was going down when he arrived, he pushed his little canoe to the shore, kindled a fire after eating laid down and slept. Very soon he saw the two dead men come and sit down by the fire opposite him their eyes were intently fixed upon him, neither smiled and were silent, he got up and sat across from them, then we awoke. The night was dark and gusty but he saw no men or heard any other sounds than that of the wind in the trees. John again fell asleep and soon saw the same two men standing below the bank of the river their heads just rising to the level of the ground he had made his fire on, they were looking at him as before. After a few minutes they arose one after the other and sat down opposite of him but now they were laughing and pushing at him with sticks, John endeavored to talk to them but his voice failed. Though out the night he was in a state of agitation and alarm, one of them told him to look at the top of the little hill, he did so and saw a horse fettered looking at him, “there my brother” he was told was a horse that you can ride on your journey tomorrow and as you pass here on your way home you can leave the horse and spent another night with us. At last came the morning and it was to no small degree he was pleased to find that with the light the terrifying visions vanished, but not withstanding he climbed the small hill where he discovered tracks and other sign which he followed a short distance where he found a horse. John knew it belonged to the trader he was going to see, as it would save several miles of water travel he left the canoe, put his pack on the horse and led him towards the trader’s house where he arrived the next day. In all subsequent journeys he carefully shunned “the place of the two dead men” and the account he gave of what he had seen and suffered through confirmed the superstitious terrors of the Indians.

After returning to the Red River he later found sugar trees in plenty, abundant game and the overall situation so desirable that he concluded to remain instead of going with all the Indians to Clear Water Lake where they were to assemble to have their usual drunken frolic. Upon their return he was again offered the prospects of marriage which he again turned down after some recriminations from Old Woman.


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